The day in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion is born

iD magazine - - History -

The mod­ern world be­gan with a sim­ple sen­tence: “Can you save me the cost of 500 horses?” On a rainy morn­ing in 1711, Thomas New­comen stands in his work­shop and can hardly be­lieve his eyes. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a large min­ing com­pany from War­wick­shire, Eng­land, stands be­fore the black­smith and iron­mon­ger. In his hand: a very lu­cra­tive con­tract for New­comen— for the de­vel­op­ment of a new ma­chine that can pump ground­wa­ter from a tun­nel deep un­der­ground. The only con­di­tion: It must be cheaper than the previous solution, which re­quired sev­eral hun­dred horses to pump the water. The only prob­lem: Given the state of the equip­ment at the time, it is an al­most im­pos­si­ble task. But in 1712, New­comen does suc­ceed in his am­bi­tious un­der­tak­ing. Us­ing the first func­tion­ing steam en­gine, he op­er­ates a water pump and is able to drain an en­tire mine shaft dry. This tech­no­log­i­cal mile­stone pro­pels hu­man­ity into a new era. In­dus­tri­al­iza­tion spreads across Europe, but Amer­ica ben­e­fits the most. “With­out the steam en­gine, Amer­ica would be like a gi­ant Third World coun­try,” says Yale Uni­ver­sity his­to­rian Paul Kennedy. Why? The U.S. was a vast coun­try with­out in­fra­struc­ture. Only the achieve­ments of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion could en­able it to mod­ern­ize— rail­ways con­nected east with west, steam­boats boosted ex­port of goods. Re­sult: an in­com­pa­ra­ble eco­nomic boom. The coun­try that was still fight­ing for in­de­pen­dence from Eng­land at the end of the 18th century sur­passes stag­nant Europe just a few decades after the in­tro­duc­tion of the steam en­gine. Dur­ing World War I, every sec­ond in­dus­trial plant was found in Amer­ica.

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